Being Jodie Foster

BY KELLY JEAN COGSWELL | I was maybe 12 or 14 when some man at the hospital said, “You remind me of somebody. That actress. You know. What's her name? Straight hair? Young? She was in that movie a couple years ago?” Which he couldn't think of, either.

I was taking newspapers around to patients, volunteering with the idea I'd go to med school, become a medical missionary. Had no idea what he was talking about. I barely watched TV, much less movies, “Called little girl something…” A nurse sick of listening to him blab, finally chimed in with, “The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane — Jodie Foster.” And the guy said, “Yeah, you're creepy, just like her.”

Great. You're all ready to get compared to a movie star, and you get the creepy one. I might have dismissed it, except it happened again. And again. “You remind me of whatshername.” When I finally saw her picture I remember staring at it, wondering just what the resemblance was supposed to be beyond generic white female. Straight brownish hair. No distinguishing marks.

I didn't figure it out until ages afterward, when I watched a couple of her films, saw her move and speak. I discovered what we had in common wasn't a face or body, but a certain stern, direct gaze and a voice pitched for anything but girly giggles. And like me, she walked. She didn't swagger, sway, or prance, just put one foot in front of the other. When she tried to do different, it always seemed like a put-on, making gender, sex, age all artificial. “Hey look, I'm being a grown-up female,” her movements declared in “Taxi Driver.” Underneath it all was a touch of something else — anger probably.

Later on, I'd put a name to us both — dyke. It's as good as any, but say lesbian if you prefer. Or queer. She didn't use any of those words when she came out Sunday night at the Golden Globes. Instead, she joked about needing to be “loud and proud” and describing how she'd already come out many times, “to everyone she'd actually met,” and thanked her recently ex- partner of decades. She sounded nervous, pained, irritated at having to repeat in public what she'd already done in private as a “fragile young girl.”

And too many people, including queers, responded the way they always do, sneering, “We knew all along.” “That wasn't a real coming out.” They wanted something more direct, more radical, the birth of an activist. And probably in the past I would have screamed, too, “Come out, Jodie Foster, come out. We need all the help we can get.”

I'm not sure anymore. Especially after seeing the anguish behind her smiling face. Because the truth isn't always as liberating as we'd like. In her case, she's probably merely relieved to get her publicist off her back, along with the LGBTQ community. She's not an Ellen, who seemed truly freed by coming out. One difference is Ellen makes a living as herself. Even as a stand-up, her work centered on her personal life. She spoke in a version of her own voice, used her name. Shared facts. She had to contort herself to stay in the closet.

Jodie Foster is in a different category as an actor. They use their faces, their bodies as tools to be somebody else, only indirectly revealing themselves. Which she did. Especially when she was young and fearless, and less self-conscious. You watch those old movies and she practically burns. The best of her generation.

Now, she sometimes seems lost behind the armour she's accumulated. It happens as you age. I'm a lesbosaurus and I've lost some of the qualities we were supposed to have shared. Talking to strangers, I often stare off to the side. I'm aware of how I walk. I don't play with gender as much, putting on a dress one day, a tie the next. I save my courage for this. Writing. Getting the words out. So let me celebrate Jodie Foster's brave coming out when the risks are so much greater for her, moving across the giant screens in theaters or trapped forever in your smartphone.

I hope she resists the pressure to go further, do queer fundraisers, or promo spots for GLAAD. What Jody Foster should be doing is acting, and in my fondest dreams she chooses daring roles like the ones that launched her. Skip the lesbian moms, and please god, no more Anna Leonowens cavorting in Siam. I need a sequel to the quirky, creepy girl who stared directly into your eyes, or a glimpse of a grown up Iris Steensma, who would be what, a junky? A born-again Christian?

Let Jodie Foster abdicate Clarice and be Hannibelle Lecter. Or a fully realized Virginia Woolf who risks it all, mixing intensity and anguish with joy and rage, love, even raw foolishness.